Pancreatitis in Dogs
The pancreas is part of the endocrine and digestive system, which is integral for the digestion of foods, producing the enzymes that digest food, and producing insulin. When a condition occurs to cause inflammation of the pancreas, the flow of enzymes into the digestive tract can become disrupted, forcing the enzymes out of the pancreas and into the abdominal area.
If this occurs, the digestive enzymes will begin to break down fat and proteins in the other organs, as well as in the pancreas. In effect, the body begins to digest itself. Because of their proximity to the pancreas, the kidney and liver can also be affected when this progression takes place, and the abdomen will become inflamed, and possibly infected as well. If bleeding occurs in the pancreas, shock, and even death can follow.
Inflammation of the pancreas (or pancreatitis) often progresses rapidly in dogs, but can often be treated without any permanent damage to the organ. However, if pancreatitis goes long-term without treatment, severe organ, and even brain damage can occur.
Pancreatitis can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the petMD health library.
There are a variety of symptoms that may be observed in the animals, including:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Weight loss (more common in cats)
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Mild to severe abdominal pain (may become more sever after eating)
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
There are several possible causes of inflammation to the pancreas. Some of them are nutritional factors, such as high levels of fat in the blood (lipemia), high levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia), trauma to the pancreas, and some drugs or toxins. Obesity linked to a high fat and low carbohydrate diet has also been shown to be a risk factor for this inflammation disorder.
Even without the presence of a high fat diet, an animal can have an occurrence of pancreatic inflammation after eating a large amount of fatty foods. This tends to occur around the holidays, when dogs are given table scraps that are not normally a part of their diets.
One other cause, rare because of its geographical probability, is scorpion stings. The venom from a scorpion can cause the pancreas to react, leading to inflammation.
Although pancreatitis can occur in any dog breed, it occurs more frequently in the Miniature Schnauzer, Miniature Poodle, and Cocker Spaniel. Inflammation of the pancreas is also more common in females than in males, and more common in elderly dogs.
Your veterinarian will also check for the presence of gallstones, and for a condition referred to as reflux. A fill blood work up will be ordered to see if there are any nutrient imbalances, and X-ray imaging will be used to look for evidence of any blunt damage to the pancreas. Pancreatic and liver enzymes will be measured to analyze for increases of either in the bloodstream. Insulin will me measured to check for normal levels, since inflammation can cause insulin producing cells in the pancreas to be damaged, possibly leading to diabetes. Diabetes is rare, but can occur, especially with dogs.
In some cases, an ultrasound will be performed to look for mass tissue growths, cysts, or abscesses in the body. A needle biopsy may also be taken along with the ultrasound.
Inflammation of the pancreas can often be treated in your veterinarian's office and will include fluid therapy, substances to help move blood flow in the veins and arteries (colloids), electrolyte supplements, and potassium supplements, as potassium levels often drop when the animal is experiencing this medical condition. If the inflammation is being caused by a medication your dog is taking, the medication will be withdrawn immediately.
It is important to restrict your pet’s activity level following any treatment to allow for healing. Food and fluids will be stopped for a few days to give the pancreas time to rest, and to slow the production of digestive enzymes. Your veterinarian may need to prescribe fluid therapy during this time to prevent dehydration.
If vomiting is persistent, drugs will be prescribed to help control it, and if your dog is experiencing severe pain, pain relievers can be given. (Pain medication should only be given with supervision from your veterinarian.) It may also be necessary to give your pet antibiotics as a preventive against infection. In some serious cases, surgery will be used to remove any blockage that is causing the inflammation, to remove large accumulations of fluid, or to remove severely damaged tissue.
When food is resumed, bland, low fat, high carbohydrate, easily digestible food will be recommended until the condition has cleared thoroughly. If the pancreatitis was severe, or is chronic (recurring), this food plan may need to be fixed permanently to protect your dog’s pancreas and internal organs.
Living and Management
Diets that are high in fats should be limited long-term, as well as diets that are high in proteins. Hydration is one of the biggest concerns and should be monitored within 24 hours of therapy, and then until the animal has fully recovered. Your veterinarian will also want to perform occasional in office examinations to ensure that progress is being made towards healing.
While these preventative measures will not ensure that your dog does not develop this inflammation, they may help to avoid the medical condition. These measures include:
- A reduction in the dog's weight (if it is overweight), and proper on-going weight management
- Avoidance of high-fat diets
- Keeping your dog as close to its ideal weight as possible
- Avoidance of drugs that may increase inflammation